Choosing organic meat and dairy products has huge benefits not just for the animals which produce them but also the farmers and the environment.
Organic farming systems have the very highest animal welfare standards. Choosing organic means you are supporting farming practices with a more traceable production process and you’ll always know what’s in your food.
Happier, healthier animals
Unlike many other farming systems, organic cows spend much of their lives outdoors where they can graze naturally on a diet of grass. Keeping cows indoors all their lives is banned under organic standards.
When they go indoors because of bad weather, all cows must be housed in well-bedded spacious yards. The time they spend indoors will never be more than one fifth of their lifetime. Organic cattle do not have to be housed during the winter, but if they are kept outside, there must be shelter, food and water.
Organic dairy cows are generally not pushed to their milk producing limits in the same way other cows can be. Average yields in organic milk production are around a third less than in intensive production.
Organic through and through
Organic beef and dairy cows eat a 100% organic diet. At least 60% of their diet must consist of fodder, roughage or silage, with a maximum of 40% concentrates.
A better life from birth
Soil Association standards have never allowed the sale of calves to continental style veal systems, and since 2010 our standards have specified that licensees must have a plan to end the practice of culling new born male calves within five years – something that frequently takes place in conventional farming.
Organic farmers tend to rear their beef cattle as suckler herds. This is where a cow suckles its calf until it is weaned at around nine months of age, then fattened. The cattle are usually kept in family groups up to weaning. This means they can follow their natural herding instincts and reduce stress.
The feeding of calves must be based on natural milk, preferably maternal milk for a minimum of three months. A calf may only be weaned when it is taking adequate solid food to cater to its full nutritional requirements. Calves cannot be weaned before three months of age.
Because the typical high-yielding breed of black and white cows (Holstein-Fresian) cannot be reared for high quality meat production, it is common practice for male dairy calves (because they can’t produce milk) to be killed at birth or exported to the continent for veal production.
Options for organic farmers include raising native breeds, such as a Red Poll or Shorthorn, that have been bred for both milk and meat, or raising male calves for organic ‘rose’ veal - a robust, mature meat, pink in colour and aged for flavour. Male calves raised for organic rose veal enjoy plenty of space and light inside suitable buildings over winter and outside at pasture for the rest of the year, a varied diet and the care of a foster cow when available.